[Note: This post was written right after I took the EA Online in May 2020. At that time, we were allowed to use only an online whiteboard. Now, everyone can use a physical whiteboard, an online whiteboard, or both. I’ve made a few updates to this post to reflect this change; otherwise, the post is exactly what I wrote / thought right after I took the exam.]
It’s been about a month since I took the GMAT Online and I was getting restless, so I decided to take the Executive Assessment (EA) Online. I felt really good about taking the EA Online—a lot better than I felt after I took the GMAT Online. (And since I know everyone always wants to know, I scored a 166 overall: 15 on IR, 13 on Verbal, and 18 on Quant. I was pretty surprised that Verbal was my lowest score, as that’s usually my best section.)
Why did the Executive Assessment feel easier?
First, I knew exactly what to expect. I’ve been practicing with the online whiteboard for a month now—I no longer have to think, “What’s this icon mean?” I didn’t even really have to look when I was changing tools; it’s automatic. [Now that we can also use a physical whiteboard, I recommend using that for any math. I recommend using the online whiteboard to keep track of your time. For verbal-based notes, it depends on whether you prefer to write or type. I prefer to type, so I take notes on the online whiteboard.]
For the EA Online, I also knew exactly how the technology check and security protocols would work. I knew how to call the proctor when needed and where to place my whiteboard on the screen. Knowing what to expect really helps to reduce anxiety in a stressful situation.
Second, it’s just easier to take the EA. The exam is only 90 minutes long, half the length of the GMAT. I wasn’t in my chair long enough to get uncomfortable or have to go to the bathroom. In addition, while the EA is also an adaptive exam, it works differently than the GMAT. The EA offers a series of short panels of 6 or 7 questions each. Within one panel, you can answer the questions in whatever order you like. That’s a much friendlier exam experience than having to answer every question in the order given, as we do on the GMAT.
The GMAT is a more challenging exam—it really pushes me and I feel a strong sense of accomplishment when I’m done with it. There are legitimate reasons for that, based on how the test is constructed, and this is no doubt why the GMAT is still the gold standard for graduate management programs. But, hey, if I’m going to apply to programs that accept the EA, then it’s basically the best of both worlds—I get the cachet of taking an exam that is very similar to the GMAT but it’s easier to take. (The only drawback is that it does cost more upfront than the GMAT. But there are no fees for most rescheduling scenarios or for sending score reports, so I find that friendlier, too. Pay once, get everything.)
So how did the EA go?
First, I want to mention something that I heard from Pearson, the organization that runs the online exam (as well as the testing centers). The vast majority of those who have tech issues during the exam also skipped doing the tech / system check in advance of exam day. Do run the tech check sometime before the day that you take the test. (You will also have to do so again immediately before the exam starts—but if a tech issue is discovered at that point, it could considerably delay the start of your exam.)
My EA Online ran exactly the same way my Test Center EA ran. You have a 12-minute instruction period, but if you’ve taken official practice EAs in the past, you’ll already know the instructions, so you don’t really need to go through them. Instead, pull up the online whiteboard (it’s available throughout the instruction period), and start testing out the tools and setting up your time management strategy.
This setup period allows you to make sure that everything is working properly—I did not do so, and then I did have a tech issue with my whiteboard when the first section, Integrated Reasoning, started. Every 20-30 seconds, my whiteboard would glitch and erase everything I’d typed! After the third time, I called the proctor, she immediately rebooted the software, and the whiteboard worked perfectly after that.
I didn’t call the proctor until about 3 minutes into the section, and then I started typing a bunch of details to her. My brain went into “This is tech support, so I have to be really detailed and tell them everything” mode. But really, I just should have told her it was malfunctioning and left it at that. By the time she understood the significance of what I was trying to say and rebooted my screen, I was about 5 minutes into the section.
After that, I settled into the IR section and was able to answer every problem except for one, a pretty ugly Two-Part problem for which I would have needed the calculator—but I didn’t have time to finish it. I think I’d have been able to finish it with another minute or two on the clock, so the time I lost to the tech glitch earlier did cost me here.
The Verbal and Quant sections both went fine. I had to do all of my work on the online whiteboard (since the physical whiteboard wasn’t allowed then) and I found that I actually really liked having the online whiteboard because I did all of my work straight down on the same “page.” When I got to the end of a panel of questions, it was easy to scroll back up to look at my work while I double-checked my answers. In the test center, everything doesn’t fit on a single page, so it was harder to find my work for the earlier questions. I also had to keep looking up and down when I was using a physical whiteboard.
At the very end of Quant, I had a panic moment again when I thought my screen had frozen—but it actually hadn’t. A five-minute-warning window pops up, but I’d placed my whiteboard over the middle of the screen, so I didn’t realize the warning window had popped up behind it. I tried to select my answer to the final problem but the screen wasn’t responding. I finally remembered the 5-minute warning from the earlier sections, found the window behind my whiteboard, clicked to dismiss it, and was able to select my answer. So just an FYI if this happens to you—move your whiteboard to see whether you also have that warning window in the middle of the screen.
So…about that tech issue…
After the exam, I spoke with GMAC about how tech issues are handled in general. Most tech issues are minor-ish, like the one I experienced; the proctors can restart the software very quickly and the test timer will stay at the same time it was at when the system was rebooted.
So, lesson learned: If you have a tech issue, call the proctor immediately. They can reboot and get you going again quickly. And I can confirm that the reboot process does not take any of your testing time away from you. I glanced at the timer right before the proctor rebooted and, when the system came back up, the timer was in fact the same.
GMAC also said that if you have a temporary internet glitch or outage (a few seconds to a few minutes), you’ll be able to pick up where you left off. If you were to have a more serious tech issue and be unable to complete the exam, you’d be given a case number and the case would be investigated (which can take up to a week). The resolution generally seems to be that the test-taker is allowed to reschedule and retake the exam. I’ve had students have this happen in testing centers, too; sometimes they lose power or Internet or something else goes wrong.
Online vs. testing center: Which is better?
A month ago, I was leaning towards testing online, but I wasn’t 100% sold yet. Now that I’ve had time to get used to everything, I’m feeling really good about the online exam option. [And now that they allow physical whiteboards, I’m 100% on the Online bandwagon—assuming you have both the technology and the necessary quiet space to take the exam.]
Yes, testing at home probably has more potential for technology glitches, but to me, that’s worth not having to travel across town and sit in a room listening to other people sniffle or feeling cold because the room temperature isn’t what I prefer. (And it’s not like the testing centers don’t have power outages or other glitches, too.)
A month ago, I was also concerned about privacy issues because the exam is recording me in my own home. I’ve since learned that Pearson automatically follows all data security and privacy laws in each test-taker’s country. In the United States, for example, the law requires the recordings to be deleted within 30 days of the date of the test. So I’m no longer concerned about this aspect either.
You’ll have to make the choice for yourself based on your own preferences and your own access to the necessary technology and space, of course. Speaking just for myself, if I continue to have the option, I’ll choose to take all of my standardized tests online and from home in the future.
Want more? Sign up for a free EA Starter Kit account on Manhattan Prep’s site for some free practice and lessons. Happy studying!
Stacey Koprince is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Stacey has been teaching the GMAT, EA, GRE, and LSAT for more than 15 years and is one of the most well-known instructors in the industry. Stacey loves to teach and is absolutely fascinated by standardized tests.